April 28, 2017

Colorado Supreme Court: Warrantless Blood Draw on Unconscious Driver Does Not Violate Fourth Amendment

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Hyde on Monday, April 17, 2017.

Searches and Seizures—Warrantless Blood Draw— Consent to Search.

In this interlocutory appeal, the Colorado Supreme Court considered whether a warrantless blood draw conducted on an unconscious driver pursuant to Colorado’s Expressed Consent Statute, C.R.S. § 42-4-1301.1, violates the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches. The court explained that by driving in Colorado, the driver consented to the terms of the statute, including its requirement that “[a]ny person who is dead or unconscious shall be tested to determine the alcohol or drug content of the person’s blood.” The court concluded that the driver’s prior statutory consent satisfied the consent exception to the warrant requirement under the Fourth Amendment; therefore, the blood draw conducted in this case was constitutional. Consequently, the court reversed the trial court’s order suppressing the blood-draw evidence.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: All Motorists in Colorado Consent to Colorado’s Expressed Consent Statute by Driving

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Simpson on Monday, April 17, 2017.

Searches and Seizures—Warrantless Blood Draw—Consent to Search.

Colorado’s Expressed Consent Statute, C.R.S. § 42-4-1301.1, provides that any motorist who drives on the roads of the state has consented to take a blood or breath test when requested to do so by a law enforcement officer with probable cause to suspect the motorist of driving under the influence. In this interlocutory appeal, the court reviewed the trial court’s ruling that an advisement accurately informing defendant of the statute amounted to coercion that rendered his consent to a blood test involuntary and required suppression of the test result. The court explained that by driving in Colorado, defendant consented to the terms of the statute, including its requirement that he submit to a blood draw under the circumstances present in this case. The court concluded that defendant’s prior statutory consent satisfied the consent exception to the warrant requirement under the Fourth Amendment; therefore, the blood test conducted in this case was constitutional. Consequently, the court reversed the trial court’s suppression of the test result.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Use of Refusal to Consent to Blood Test as Evidence Does Not Violate Fourth Amendment

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Fitzgerald v. People on Monday, April 17, 2017.

Searches and Seizures—Refusal to Submit to 12 Blood-Alcohol Testing—Admission of Refusal Evidence.

The Colorado Supreme Court considered whether the prosecution’s use of a defendant’s refusal to consent to blood-alcohol testing as evidence of guilt at trial for a drunk-driving offense, in accordance with the terms of Colorado’s Expressed Consent Statute, C.R.S. § 42-4-1301.1, violates the Fourth Amendment. Because the use of such refusal evidence does not impermissibly burden a defendant’s right to be free from unreasonable searches, the court concluded that the use of such refusal evidence does not violate the Fourth Amendment. The court therefore affirmed the judgment of the district court.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Random Drug Test for County Employee Acceptable When Employee Holds Safety-Sensitive Position

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Washington v. Unified Government of Wyandotte County, Kansas on February 6, 2017.

Roberick Washington was a lieutenant at the Wyandotte Country Juvenile Detention Center in Kansas City, Kansas. The position entailed Washington interacting with residents, conducting disciplinary hearings for residents, driving the County van to take juveniles to the intake assessment center, and being present if a fight broke out. Wyandotte County has a random drug testing policy that applies to employees in “safety sensitive positions.” The county’s Policy on Substance Abuse and Drug and Alcohol Testing lists Washington’s position, “juvenile lieutenant,” as a safety sensitive position. The policy states that a failed drug or alcohol test is grounds for discipline, including discharge.

Sheriff Donald Ash terminated Washington after he tested positive for cocaine following a random drug test. Pursuant to the Human Resource Guide, Washington Appealed Ash’s decision to the administrator of the Juvenile Detention Center. This grievance was denied, and Washington appealed to the County Administrator’s Office. After a hearing, an assistant county administrator upheld the termination. Washington claims that he sought an evidentiary hearing and a name-clearing hearing, but was denied both.

Washington alleged three violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, namely that the drug test was an illegal search in violation of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, he was deprived of his property interest in continued employment without due process, and defendants failed to provide him with a name-clearing hearing. Additionally, Washington claimed the county breached an implied contract created by its written disciplinary policies in violation of state contract law. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants on all counts.

The Tenth Circuit first addressed Washington’s § 1983 claims. Municipalities are not protected by qualified immunity, so to grant summary judgment in favor or a municipality, the pleadings and supporting materials must establish there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A plaintiff must identify an unconstitutional policy that caused the claimed injury in order for a municipality to be liable under § 1983. A plaintiff must establish that the municipal employee causing the harm violated the plaintiff’s constitutional rights.

The Tenth Circuit first addressed Washington’s claim that the county’s random drug test violated the Fourth Amendment’s probable cause and warrant requirements. Ordinarily, a search must be based on individualized suspicion of wrongdoing. However, when the government asserts a special need beyond ordinary crime detection, the Tenth Circuit has found suspicionless drug testing reasonable if the government’s interests outweigh the individual’s privacy interests. Courts have held that when drug use among the individuals tested would threaten the workplace or public safety, the government’s concerns are real. Additionally, courts have held that random drug tests are effective at detecting and deterring drug use.

The Tenth Circuit held that the county had a legitimate special need because the random drug tests to juvenile lieutenants ensured the safety and welfare of the children housed in the juvenile detention center. The juvenile lieutenant position involved interactions with residents, and drug use would impair his ability to interact with the youth. Additionally, the random testing minimized the possibility that employees would evade detection and maximized deterrence. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit found a legitimate special need for the random drug testing.

The Tenth Circuit then weighed the special need against Washington’s privacy interests to determine if the tests were reasonable. The Tenth Circuit held that as a correctional employee, Washington’s expectation of privacy was diminished. Additionally, the drug testing was minimally invasive, as Washington provided a sample behind a closed door with no supervision.

Next, the Tenth Circuit held that the county presented two interests that were important enough to justify testing Washington. The first was that Washington was working with juveniles in an educational setting, and an employee’s illegal drug use presented a risk of harm to minors. Second, if an employee has law enforcement duties and access to direct contact with inmates, that employee’s illegal use of drugs presents a significant threat to inmates and the security of the facility. The Supreme Court has held that suspicionless drug testing of employees in certain safety sensitive positions was reasonable. In this case, the county’s policy lists “juvenile lieutenant” as a safety sensitive position. The Tenth Circuit held that this classification was reasonable to Washington’s position based on the duties that he performed. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit held that in this specific instance, the county’s interests were more important and outweighed Washington’s diminished privacy rights, and thus the random drug test was reasonable. Consequently, neither Sheriff Ash nor the county could be subject to § 1983 liability.

Next, the Tenth Circuit addressed Washington’s claim that the county’s personnel policies established he had a protected property interest in his continued employment at the Juvenile Detention Center. The Tenth Circuit stated a two-part inquiry to determine whether a plaintiff was denied procedural due process. First, the plaintiff must have a protected interest to which due process is applicable. The second inquiry is whether the plaintiff was afforded an appropriate level of due process.

Here, the Tenth Circuit looked to Kansas state law to determine if Washington had a protected property interest. The Tenth Circuit determined that Kansas law established that public employment is presumptively at-will, and that Washington did not provide evidence to rebut this presumption. The Tenth Circuit held that personnel policies alone were insufficient to create an implied employment contract. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on this claim.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for Washington’s claim that he was entitled to a name-clearing hearing because Washington’s pretrial order did not reference any damaged liberty interest.

Finally, the Tenth Circuit holds that because Washington failed to establish that there was an implied employment contract, the county was entitled to summary judgment on his breach of contract claim.

Tenth Circuit: Reasonable Person Would Not Have Felt Free to Leave When Stopped by Officers

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Hernandez on Thursday, February 9, 2017.

Phillip Hernandez was charged with one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C § 922(g)(1). The district court granted his motion to suppress the evidence, as it was obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unlawful seizure during his encounter with two police officers. The government appealed, claiming that the court should apply the subsequent decision in Utah v. Streiff, and arguing that the district court failed to properly apply the Spence factors to the seizure.

On October 20, 2014, two police officers observed Phillip Hernandez walking near a construction site in a known high crime area. The uniformed officers asked Hernandez if they could speak to him, and began asking him questions while driving along side him in their marked police car as Hernandez continued walking. The officers eventually asked Hernandez to stop so they could ask him additional questions. While questioning Hernandez, the officers discovered an active warrant against him and that Hernandez was in possession of a firearm. Hernandez filed a motion to suppress the firearm evidence, which the district court granted.

On appeal, the government asserted that the Supreme Court’s decision in Utah v. Streiff should apply to this case. In Streiff, the Supreme Court ruled that courts may admit illegally obtained evidence as long as the link between the evidence and the illegal method is sufficiently remote, in a case where the evidence in question was obtained by police officers who illegally stop someone and later discover an existing warrant against that person. The Tenth Circuit, however, rejected the application of the decision in Streiff, agreeing with Hernandez that the government had waived the right to present this argument as they had failed to assert it at the district court level.

The court next turned to the government’s argument that the lower court improperly applied the Spence factors to Hernandez’s encounter with the two officers because officers are free to approach individuals and question them. The court stated that the crucial test to determine if an unlawful seizure has occurred is if the officer’s conduct would lead a reasonable person under similar circumstances to believe they were not free to ignore the police presence and leave the situation. The court agreed with the district court’s application of the factors enumerated in United States v. Spence, stating that once the police officers asked Hernandez to stop, because there were two uniformed police officers in a police car at night without other witnesses present, a reasonable person would not have felt he could walk away.

Finally, the court addressed if the officers had reasonable suspicion to justify an investigative detention. In considering the reasonableness of the detention, the court looked at if there were “specific and articulable facts and rational inferences drawn from those facts” that gave the officers reasonable suspicion that Hernandez was involved in criminal activity. The court looked at the officer’s stated reasons for suspicion, including that Hernandez was walking near a construction site where there had been prior thefts, Hernandez was in a high crime area, Hernandez chose not to walk on the side of the street with a sidewalk, and Hernandez was dressed in all black clothing and carrying two backpacks. The court ultimately determined that, although the level of suspicion required for a Terry stop is less than that required for an arrest, the circumstances in this case did not rise to the requisite level for the officers to stop Hernandez.

Justice Briscoe dissented, stating that he believed the encounter between Hernandez and the officers was more along the lines of a consensual encounter and did not constitute an unlawful seizure considering the circumstances.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of a motion to suppress the evidence.

Tenth Circuit: Officers Reasonably Believed Use of Deadly Force was Necessary

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Carabajal v. City of Cheyenne, Wyoming on February 6, 2017.

This case arose out of an instance involving the Plaintiffs, Mathew Carabajal and his son, V.M.C., being pulled over by several officers, including Officer Thornton and Officer Sutton. On September 19, 2011, Mr. Carabajal was driving a vehicle containing his infant son, V.M.C., and two others. A police vehicle with its lights and sirens activated followed him, but he continued to drive for approximately six blocks, obeying the speed limit. After Mr. Carabajal pulled over, Officer Thornton, one of two officers who later arrived at the scene, stood in front of the vehicle, while a police vehicle was positioned behind Mr. Carabajal’s vehicle and two other vehicles were parked in front of Mr. Carabajal’s. Officer Thornton shouted at Mr. Carabajal, “Don’t start the car or I’ll shoot.” Mr. Carabajal’s vehicle began to move forward and, after three seconds, Officer Thornton fired two rounds from his shotgun at Mr. Carabajal, injuring him. The car then stopped and Officers Thornton and Sutton removed Mr. Carabajal from the vehicle. Mr. Carabajal fell to the ground and Officers Sutton and Thornton slowly dragged Mr. Carabajal out of the vehicle.

Plaintiffs sued the City of Cheyenne, Wyoming, its police department, and four officers, including Officers Thornton and Sutton, in their individual capacities. The district court dismissed V.M.C.’s claim that he was unlawfully seized when Officer Thornton shot into the vehicle he was an occupant in. The district court granted summary judgment on Mr. Carabajal’s excessive force claims, finding that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity. The district court also held that the complaint did not plead a negligence claim against the City based on the alleged hiring of Officer Thornton, due to a lack of evidentiary support.

The Tenth Circuit first addressed Mr. Carabajal’s challenge of the district court’s grant of qualified immunity on his excessive force claims. In this case, the events were captured on video, and the Tenth Circuit states that it relied on that evidence. The Tenth Circuit articulated the two-part analysis required when a defendant asserts qualified immunity. First, the plaintiff must allege facts to demonstrate that a violation of a constitutional right occurred. Second, if that demonstration is made, the court must determine whether the right at issue was “clearly established” at the time of the incident. The plaintiff must show both of these factors.

Mr. Carabajal alleged that Officers Thornton and Sutton violated his Fourth Amendment rights through the use of excessive force.  The Fourth Amendment protects individuals against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” A “seizure” must have occurred and the plaintiff must prove that is was “unreasonable.” Mr. Carabajal made two claims of excessive force.

Mr. Carabajal’s first excessive force claim regarded Officer Thornton’s shooting of Mr. Carabajal. The district court held that the use of force in this case was reasonable. The Tenth Circuit agreed. The Tenth Circuit cited the facts that Mr. Carabajal had eluded police for several blocks, was ordered not to start the vehicle, and that Mr. Carabajal appeared to deliberately drive his vehicle in Officer Thornton’s direction. Additionally, because of the positions of the three police vehicles, in those close quarters, the Tenth Circuit held that a reasonable officer could conclude that his life was in danger and employ deadly force to stop the vehicle. It was reasonable for Officer Thornton to have perceived that Mr. Carabajal’s driving was deliberate. Therefore, Officer Thornton’s conduct was reasonable.

Next, the Tenth Circuit held that, even if Officer Thornton’s conduct was excessive under the Forth Amendment, it was not clearly established that his conduct was unlawful at the time of the shooting. The Tenth Circuit addresses a circuit split regarding the issue and a lack of Supreme Court precedent to hold that the unlawfulness of Officer Thornton’s conduct was not clearly established.

Therefore, the Tenth Circuit held that qualified immunity was warranted regarding Mr. Carabajal’s first excessive force claim.

Mr. Carabajal’s second excessive force claim regarded Officers Thornton and Sutton’s removal of Mr. Carabajal from the vehicle after he was shot. The Tenth Circuit held that the video evidence revealed that the officers did not use an unreasonable amount of force, nor was it unreasonable to remove Mr. Carabajal from the vehicle under those circumstances. When Mr. Carabajal was removed, the officers were aware that he had been non-compliant with police instructions at least twice. Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit held that Mr. Carabajal did not demonstrate a violation of a constitutional right and that Officers Thornton and Sutton were entitled to qualified immunity regarding Mr. Carabajal’s second excessive force claim.

The Tenth Circuit next addressed V.M.C.’s claim that he was unlawfully seized by Officer Thornton when he shot into the vehicle that V.M.C. occupied. The Tenth Circuit held that even if V.M.C. did plead a plausible unreasonable seizure claim, Officer Thornton would have been entitled to qualified immunity because the law does not clearly establish whether firing a weapon into a car constitutes a Fourth Amendment seizure.

Finally, the Tenth Circuit addressed the district court’s dismissal of the Plaintiffs’ negligent hiring claim against the City. A plaintiff must show that the City was reckless or negligent in its employment of improper persons in work that posed a risk of harm to others, for the City to be liable. Here, the City engaged in an extensive investigation into Officer Thornton that demonstrated he qualified under Wyoming standards for employment as a police officer. The Plaintiffs presented no evidence that the City was on notice that Officer Thornton was likely to use unnecessary or excessive force against a member of the public. Thus, the Tenth Circuit held that the City owed no legal duty to protect Plaintiffs as they alleged.

Colorado Supreme Court: Totality of Circumstances Informs Probable Cause Determination

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Cox on Monday, February 6, 2017.

Fourth Amendment—Probable Cause—Totality of the Circumstances—Canine Alerts.

Several factors led the trooper, who had stopped defendant’s vehicle for a traffic infraction, to suspect that there might be evidence of illegal activity in the vehicle’s trunk, including defendant’s unusual nervousness, an inconsistency in his account of his travels, the fact that he had two cell phones on the passenger seat of his vehicle, and the fact that the trooper’s canine alerted to the trunk for the presence of  drugs. The trooper searched the trunk over defendant’s objection and found  multiple sealed packages of marijuana. Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence found in the trunk, which the trial court granted. The trial court concluded that the canine alert could not be considered under the totality of the circumstances because the canine would alert to both legal and illegal amounts of marijuana. The trial court ultimately held that the trooper did not have probable cause to search the trunk.

The Colorado Supreme Court reversed. Under People v. Zuniga, 2016 CO 52, issued before the trial court issued its order in this case, the canine alert should be considered as a part of the totality of the circumstances. Considering the totality of the circumstances, including the canine alert, defendant’s unusual nervousness, an inconsistency in his account of his travels, and the fact that he had two cell phones on the passenger seat of his vehicle, there was probable cause to search the vehicle’s trunk.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Officer Had Reasonable and Articulable Basis to Conduct Protective Search of Vehicle

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Delacruz on Monday, December 5, 2o16.

Fourth Amendment—Traffic Stops—Protective Search of a Vehicle.

In this interlocutory appeal, the Supreme Court reviewed the trial court’s order suppressing a firearm that police seized from a vehicle in which defendant was a passenger. The Court concluded that the firearm was discovered during a valid protective search of the vehicle under Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032 (1983), given the circumstances confronting the officer at the time of the search. The officer had an articulable and objectively reasonable basis to conduct a protective search of the passenger compartment of the vehicle because (1) the investigatory stop occurred in an area the officer testified was known for frequent criminal activity; (2) defendant appeared to have given the officer a false name; and (3) the officer observed a large knife on the front floorboard near defendant’s feet when the officer asked him to step out of the vehicle for questioning. The Court further concluded that the officer did not exceed the lawful scope of a protective search by looking behind the driver’s seat because the rear floorboard is an area of sufficient size to conceal a weapon and would have been within the reaching distance of a vehicle occupant.

The trial court’s suppression order was reversed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Exigent Circumstances Justified Warrantless Search of Suspect’s Mouth

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Carr on Thursday, November 17, 2016.

Vehicle—Probable Cause—Non-Consensual Search—Mouth—Unlawful Drugs—Evidence—Suppression—Fourth Amendment.

A police surveillance team identified the vehicle Carr was riding in as possibly being involved in drug sales. Officers observed the vehicle speeding and weaving into another lane and pulled it over. The officer who approached the driver’s side of the vehicle smelled alcohol and marijuana. The officers noticed that Carr was making chewing motions with his jaw and had a golf-ball sized bulge in his cheek. He refused the officers’ commands to spit out the contents of his mouth. The officers forced open Carr’s mouth and removed ten bags of drugs, which later tested positive for cocaine. Carr was charged with various crimes. He moved to suppress all evidence resulting from the search of his mouth. The court denied his motion, and he was ultimately convicted.

On appeal, Carr argued that the nonconsensual search of his mouth violated the Fourth Amendment and the court thus erred in failing to suppress the evidence obtained during that search. In addition to probable cause for the arrest of a suspect, which was not at issue in this case, the Fourth Amendment requires the state to prove three factors to render a warrantless internal body search constitutional: (1) a clear indication that incriminating evidence will be found; (2) exigent circumstances that justify the intrusion and make it impractical to obtain a search warrant; and (3) extraction of the evidence in a reasonable manner and by a reasonable method. Here, there was a clear indication that evidence would be found because the officers believed that Carr was in a vehicle that was suspected to be involved in drug dealing; they saw a large bulge in his mouth; he refused to speak to the officers or reveal what was in his mouth and was trying to chew or swallow what was in his mouth; and the officers had experience or training that indicated that suspects would attempt to swallow drugs. Exigent circumstance justified the search because Carr was attempting to chew and swallow, and it was imperative for the officers to retrieve whatever was in Carr’s mouth to preserve evidence and keep Carr from harming himself. Finally, extraction of the evidence was reasonable. Although the officers used physical force to search Carr’s mouth, they did not force him to undergo any invasive medical procedure or apply force to his throat. The minimal risk to Carr’s health and safety and the intrusion on his privacy and dignity did not outweigh the community’s interest in retrieving the bags of drugs. Therefore, the search of Carr’s mouth did not violate his Fourth Amendment rights.

The judgment of conviction was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Warrant Establishes Long String of Criminal History Despite Lack of Specific Dates

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Cooper on Monday, November 21, 2016.

In September 2015, officers requested and obtained a search warrant for Lonnie Cooper’s residence and vehicles based for illegal drugs. The affidavit supporting the warrant contained information from a confidential informant about the drug activity, but did not contain any specific dates when the activity occurred. An Alamosa County magistrate signed the warrant the day it was presented, and police searched Cooper’s home, finding controlled substances, drug paraphernalia, and weapons. Cooper was charged with multiple counts.

Cooper moved to suppress the results of the search warrant, arguing that the supporting affidavit was so lacking in indicia of probable cause that no reasonable officer could, in good faith, rely on it. The trial court granted the motion. The trial court was particularly concerned about the affidavit’s “staleness,” or the lack of exact dates. The State filed an interlocutory appeal, and the Colorado Supreme Court reversed the suppression order.

The State argued that even if the warrant was stale and issued in error, the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule should apply. The supreme court agreed. The court focused on the “bare bones” situation where the good faith exception would not apply, namely “where the warrant is based on an affidavit so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence entirely unreasonable.” Because in this case there was considerable evidence of ongoing drug trafficking activity, an officer could have a reasonable, good faith belief that the warrant was proper.

The Colorado Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s suppression order. Justice Hood concurred, and Justice Marquez joined in the concurrence.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Each Animal Subject to Neglect or Abuse Constitutes Separate Cruelty Count

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Harris on Thursday, November 3, 2016.

After a neighbor called the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region to report a dead horse near his property line, Sergeant Stephanie Garcia and a fellow officer investigated Harris’s property and discovered several emaciated animals. Sergeant Garcia sought and received a search warrant (the horse warrant) for Harris’s ranch to investigate animal cruelty. While the animal protection agents executed the search warrant with accompanying law enforcement officers, they found a recently deceased donkey who appeared severely underfed, and also discovered several malnourished dogs. They sought and received another warrant for the dogs, since the horse warrant was limited in scope to livestock. Harris was charged with fifteen counts of cruelty to animals (second offense) and two counts of needlessly killing an animal.

About two weeks later, the neighbor reported that Harris had dragged three dead horses onto his property. The neighbor later observed Harris and her brother attempting to drag the horses back onto her own property. Sergeant Garcia contacted Harris and entered her property with permission. She observed two more dead horses. Harris was charged in a separate case with aggravated cruelty to animals for needlessly killing the five horses. The cases were consolidated for trial.

Several witnesses testified at trial, including an expert in veterinary medicine who was present during the search. All of the prosecution’s witnesses testified that the animals appeared severely malnourished and there was no evidence of food on the property. Harris’s theory of defense was that the water had a high sulfate level and the animals were malnourished due to the high sulfate. Harris insisted she was feeding her horses and justified the lack of food by saying she procured hay from a neighbor on a daily basis. The jury convicted Harris on all counts. In a bifurcated proceeding, the court found that the fifteen animal cruelty convictions counted as a second offense due to Harris’s 2007 convictions for misdemeanor animal cruelty. She was sentenced to concurrent 10-year sentences on all counts in the first case and concurrent three-year counts on the aggravated cruelty counts in the second case. She appealed.

In district court, Harris moved to suppress all evidence from the search on the grounds that animal protection agents are not statutorily authorized to obtain livestock warrants and both warrants lacked probable cause. The court of appeals agreed that the animal protection agent exceeded her authority in obtaining the warrants. Under the statute, only government agents are authorized to investigate livestock abuse. Because the animal protection agent was employed by a private nonprofit corporation, she was not authorized to apply for a livestock warrant. The court, however, found that the statutory deficiency did not rise to the level of a constitutional deficiency. To be valid under the United States and Colorado Constitutions, a warrant must have been issued by a neutral magistrate, those seeking the warrant must have demonstrated probable cause, and the warrant must describe with particularity the things to be seized. In this case, the warrants at issue met all three requirements. Therefore, the exclusionary rule did not apply because there was no constitutional violation.

Harris next contended that the animal cruelty was one continuous act, so she should have been charged with only one count of animal cruelty. The court noted that this argument turned on whether the statutory language contemplated animals as property or as sentient beings capable of feeling pain. The court evaluated the history of animal cruelty laws and found that there was a shift from considering animals as property to recognizing them as sentient beings. The court then analyzed the statutory language and found that because the language considered “an animal” or “any animal,” charging each act of cruelty separately was permissible.

Harris raised several other points of error, which the court addressed and rejected in turn. The court of appeals affirmed the convictions and sentences.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Impoundment of Vehicle Unlawful Where Driver Was Not Arrested

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Brown on Thursday, October 20, 2016.

Carl Brown was pulled over for failing to make a complete stop at a stop sign. The officer who pulled him over discovered Mr. Brown was driving with a suspended license. The officer decided to issue Mr. Brown a summons, but not arrest him. The officer then impounded Mr. Brown’s car and conducted an inventory search, which revealed drugs. At that time, Mr. Brown was arrested, charged with, and ultimately convicted of possession of a controlled substance (over two grams) and possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute.

On appeal, Mr. Brown argued that the inventory search violated the Fourth Amendment, and the contents of that search should therefore have been suppressed. Mr. Brown argued several other points of error, but because the Colorado Court of Appeals agreed with him that the initial search was illegal, it did not address his remaining contentions.

The court evaluated the impoundment statute, which allows for police to impound a vehicle when the impoundment occurs to further public safety, community caretaking functions, or to remove disabled or damaged vehicles. The officer who pulled Mr. Brown over testified that Mr. Brown’s vehicle was off the road, not blocking traffic. He testified that he impounded the vehicle because Mr. Brown’s license was suspended. The court found this insufficient to survive a Fourth Amendment analysis. The court noted that because the officer decided not to arrest Mr. Brown, there was no reason why Mr. Brown could not have stayed with his vehicle and either called a friend to drive the car or called a tow truck himself. Because the officer did not give Mr. Brown the choice of whether to take care of the vehicle himself or have the police impound it, the seizure was unlawful in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The court of appeals reversed and remanded with orders for the trial court to grant the motion to suppress and for proceedings consistent with their opinion.